South Africa’s government says it will donate two million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to other African countries to boost the continent’s inoculation drive.
The doses, worth approximately $18m, will be produced at the Aspen Pharmacare manufacturing facility in Gqeberha, formerly Port Elizabeth, and be distributed to various African countries over the next year, according to a statement issued on Friday.
“This donation embodies South Africa’s solidarity with our brothers and sisters on the continent with whom we are united in fighting an unprecedented threat to public health and economic prosperity,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in the statement.
“The only way in which we can prevent COVID-19 transmission and protect economies and societies on our continent is to successfully immunise a critical mass of the African population with safe and effective vaccines,” added Ramaphosa.
The 69-year-old president tested positive for COVID-19 on December 12 and has been isolating at his official residence in Cape Town since then, with treatment by the South African military health service.
In a separate statement on Friday, his office said Ramaphosa is “making good progress in his recovery from COVID-19 while continuing treatment for mild symptoms”.
Ramaphosa is “in good spirits and comfortable in his recovery,” the statement added.
World’s least vaccinated continent
South Africa’s donation will add to the more than 100 million vaccine doses that have been donated to the African Union’s African Vaccine Acquisition Trust. The African vaccination group has also purchased 500 million doses to be distributed to countries across the continent.
Africa remains the world’s least vaccinated continent. The World Health Organization (WHO) says Africa might not reach the target of vaccinating 70 percent of its 1.3 billion population until the second half of 2024.
Just 20 of Africa’s 54 countries have fully vaccinated at least 10 percent of their populations against COVID-19. Ten African countries have less than two percent of their populations fully vaccinated, according to WHO.
South Africa is currently battling a resurgence of the coronavirus fuelled by the Omicron variant.
It recorded 24,785 new infections and 36 deaths in the most recent 24-hour reporting cycle. The country’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen steeply over the past two weeks from 8.59 new cases per 100,000 people on December 2 to 39.11 new cases per 100,000 people on December 16.
More than 78 percent of the new cases are from the Omicron variant, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said in a briefing on Friday.
Hospitalisations and deaths from COVID-19 have increased somewhat but not at rates comparable with the sharp upward curve of new cases, health experts said.
South African scientists say that their analysis of data suggests the Pfizer vaccine offers less defence against infection from Omicron and reduced, but still good, protection from hospitalisation.
Despite the increased number of COVID-19 cases, the government has not announced an increase in restrictions.
In contrast to many other African countries, South Africa now has adequate supplies of vaccine doses, estimated at 19 million, but the number of people getting vaccinated has slowed dramatically. Just 12,500 shots were given on Thursday, according to official figures, down from an average of about 120,000 per day in November.
More than 15 million South Africans are fully vaccinated, representing 38 percent of the adult population, according to official statistics.
“We are very worried about the drastic decline in the uptake of vaccinations, especially in the last seven to 10 days,” Phaahla said at the briefing, urging South Africans to get vaccination shots before the holidays. “Jab before jive!” Phaahla said.